The secret of 17 years
The secret of 17 years
Written by Simko Ahmed
Summer 2005 Japan
14th September 2004
I had arrived in my hometown Sulaimani just few days earlier, it had been more than 17 years since I was last there.
Many things has changed there, but the highest building in the middle of the town was still the same except the name has changed from Hasib Salih to Slemani Palace, it was and still is the biggest hotel building in the city.
I knew nobody from the city anymore. I stayed in the Slemani Palace. I walked all over the city and memories flashed back everywhere I went. My only reason to come to this city after such a long absence was to meet Tara, a girl that I had been in touch by e-mail with for the past few years, but had never met in person. She was a student at the Sulaimani fine art institute and we had an appointment to meet up that day at noon. I checked my bag and looked once again at the bunch of postcards and checked the videotape inside to make sure that I had everything with me.
I went to the institute waiting for her in the cafeteria, perhaps I was the oldest person in the entire crowd, some student were staring at me, they probably thought I was a new teacher or some old man come back from abroad wanting to marry a young girl. As I was waiting for Tara, and as I had never seen her photos, I was looking at any girl coming in to the cafeteria.
“Oh God, any of them could be Tara, they are all same age” I said to myself.
I told her the day before that I would be wearing a black T shirt with blue jeans, I was sure that she would have no problem in finding me, and anyway I’m the oldest person in the place, so she will spot me easily.
Ten minutes after I arrived she came in with big smile on her face.
“You must be Kak Baran”
“Hello Tara, it’s nice to finally meet you after talking so often”
“You look much younger than I expected” she said.
“Actually this place, full of all these youngsters, is making me feel old!” I replied with soft laughter in my voice. I was thinking about all the years I had wasted in the dust of war. But at that moment I still felt lucky that I was alive.
“I must be twice your age!”
“You may well be” She laughed, “I just turned 17 last week”.
I knew exactly which day she was born on. I have been celebrating that day for the past 17 years in my lonely apartment in down town Tokyo.
“So you were my mother’s friend?” She said.
“Yep, that is right, I met her in Tokyo in 1988 when I had just moved there” I said.
I have been talking about all those things by e-mails to her, but in that situation I was talking about them once again just to make conversation.
“Oh yes I remember” she said
“There is a photo of you in my mother’s album, I just realized that now when I saw you. I thought it was Japan with so many building behind you, and you looked like my mother’s son” she laughed.
“By the way, how old are you?” she asked.
“How old do you think?”
“My older brother’s age! Especially as I haven’t got one!” she said in a joking voice.
“ You are a funny girl” I replied
I know how much Kurdish likes to make jokes, I was more nervous than I had expected to be, trying to laugh when she did.
“I’m 33, as I told you, almost twice your age.”
“Kak Baran, do you want to go out for lunch?”
“Can you call me Simko not Baran , I prefer that name” I said.
“Ok Simko then, no need for Kak anymore, we are friends” she said.
I could see something in her eyes. Maybe, like most girls her age, she was dreaming about marrying someone from abroad and escaping Kurdistan.
We went to have lunch in the most famous old kebab restaurant in the city, that taste took me back to long ago, and I felt how long seventeen years could be.
“So tell me how the hell you found me on the internet?” she said
“Well I knew your name from your mother’s postcard, she use to send me a few via her friend in London, so I just checked the internet and found your e-mail address. I was not sure if it was you, but the age matched with your profile, I was lucky”
“So tell me about your mother, how did she die?” I asked.
“She was sick and working too hard, she passed away last year, she was only 51 years old, not old enough to die, but of course, cancer never negotiates”.
“So you wrote me that you live with your grandpa now, right?” I said
“Yes, I live with them, and they live together with my uncle’s family from my father’s side. You know that my Dad passed away a long time ago when I was 5 years old. I hardly remember what he looked like. You know here single woman cannot live alone so I moved to my grandpa’s house. It is very crowded as he has eight children” she said
“Are you happy?” I asked
“I guess not that bad, and to be honest I didn’t have any choice.”
“Are you back to meet family? Or getting married?” she said with in a suspicious tone.
“No, not my family, they all died in the Anfal campaign, I just came back to see some friends”.
I couldn’t tell her I had come all the way from farthest Asia to see her eyes and give her this parcel.
“So tell me about yourself and Japan and how did you meet my mother?” she said
One of her hairs had fallen into her dish. I removed it before she swallowed it. I put it into my pocket without her noticing.
“Oh thank you, it was my hair, I should tie it up rather than keep it so wild, some of my friends say that I look like a lion” she laughed very beautifully.
12th November 1989
I was jogging beside the Tamagawa river in Tokyo, “momigi” Autumn colour in Japanese. I loved that slow, soft breeze cooling down my sweaty body. The park was crowded at the weekend, and as always, lively and noisy. I got so tired I laid down under the Sakura tree. I have seen that tree in the Cherry Blossom season, it was so beautiful, like a bride in her white pinkish dress. As I was staring at the blue sky I suddenly and unexpectedly smelled Dollma, my absolute favorite Kurdish dish.
Oh my God that smell took me back to Kurdistan! I looked around to find where it came, I saw the middle aged woman, definitely a foreigners face, sitting under the tree shade and reading a book. She had small pot half full of Dollma and eating from it slowly, as her eyes were dancing across the lines of the book i. She noticed me after a while, and that I was staring at her, and then she said “Hello”.
“Hello” I replied
“where are you from?” I asked eagerly right away.
“ Well I’m form Iraq. How about yourself?” she replied.
I was afraid to answer right away, I lied by saying “I’m from Turkey”. I didn’t say any Arab country as I was afraid of Iraqi spies who were scattered all over the world. I was afraid that I couldn’t speak Arabic either as it would easily give away my secret.
“Where in Iraq?” I asked
“North. You know about Iraq?” she said
“Yes I know the North, which part?” I asked
“Do you know Sulaimni, a Kuridsh city in the north?” As she replied tears came to my eyes, and she noticed and asking me in Kurdish “are you Kurdish?”
“I’m from there too” I replied in a sad voice.
“So what wind blew you here?” she asked, with surprised eyes full of questions.
“ I came here over a year ago. I run the Anfal* war “
I could see a big sympathy in her eyes, and she seemed so caring and sorry, she could see the long pain behind my few words. I could see that we were in tune with each other, we didn’t need many words to understand what the other meant. We Kurdish are familiar with pain and we all knows the bitter taste of tears, but we had not felt a sense of happiness since leaving our childhoods behind.
“I really feel so shocked and surprised meeting a Kurdish boy in this part of the world. I just can’t believe it! Have some Dollma, I made it myself last night” Her talking brought tears back to my eyes and stirred my emotions.
That Dollma has the taste that took me back to my childhood. It was just like dream, that in that city where I never believed that I would find anybody to remind me so clearly of Kurdistan.
“Do you live here?” I asked
“ Oh no, I’m here on workshop training in Tokyo University, I’m a bacteriologist I’m here for a two month training course and will go back the day after tomorrow, it is my last weekend. What a pity that time goes so fast”
“What is your name?” she asked
“In Kurdistan I was Simko but here I changed it to Baran which means rain in our language”
“Because the day I landed at Tokyo it was raining, I found the drops of rain were the only thing familiar to me in this new world.”
“that’s beautiful. My name is Rukhosh” she said as she reached her hand out towards me to shake it.
“Are you with your family?” she asked
“No! I have no idea where are they now. I was in Qaradakh* when the Anfal military campaign started. When the Iraqis attacked the village of Koshk I was there. I fled with the villagers for many days. We finally made it to Iran, the people behind us who were late trying to escape were all killed by chemical bombs”
“Why did you end up apart from your family?” She asked
“ I was in Qaradakh with my cousin, he was in the Peshmarga. I run away there because I didn’t participate in military training for the students in our school. My family thought the city was not safe so they sent me to the village to my cousin’s house”
“What happened to your cousin?”
“He was the first one to get killed in the village He loved swimming, he used to go to the river to swim every day. That day when the first military helicopter came they shoot him in the river. When the helicopter left we ran to the river, I found him dead in there. Many other people and animals were killed beside the river. Along with others we buried his body in a hole close to the river, the type of hole that people dig to hide themselves when the bombardment starts. We put him there and covered the hole with some leaves and stems and then we covered it with soil. We had to do that very quickly because we knew that they would come back and destroy the rest of the village. We put some bread and water and some other necessities inside blankets and started to run as quickly as we could, it took us 5 days to reach Iran’s border.
“Oh my God! How old are you?” she cried in a very emotional voice.
“I’m 18 years old now”
“so you are totally alone in this country, how did you get here?
“When I fled to Iran, they took us to hospital, but I wasn’t affected by the chemical bomb, so they let me off quickly. When I was in Qaradakh I became friends with two sons of one of the highest-ranking Peshmarga. There his father asked us to go to the embassies of the other countries to ask for asylum. We went to many different embassies, but after a few months waiting and many interview the Japanese Embassy in Tahran accepted my application and I came here”
“How about your friends?”
“They were accepted in England where they had relatives”
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m still studying language and I’m applying for university next year, I like Civil Engineering”
“I really wish you luck then”
The talk took us till dark, and she was very nice to me and I could see she had the biggest heart in her chest.
She wanted to see where I live, so she came back with me to my small apartment in downtown Tokyo, that time I was living on the 12th floor of the old building with a small balcony from where you could see the high-rises of Tokyo and the whole skyline.
“It is a great place, did you arrange this house by yourself?” she asked
“Yes I love art so that’s why I put all those art works on the small walls”
“Do you drink wine?” she said when she saw the bottle of red wine on my table.
“All that was prohibited for me there, is allowed here. But there they tasted better. Here you have everything but nothing tastes like it did there. Except your Dollma !” I said
“You are a funny man! You like joking” she said with a big smile
“Listen, I’m still in shock from meeting you. It was beyond my wildest expectations! I have dinner with my host university professors, I have to leave soon but would love to see you tomorrow, and I can take any letters you want to your family and send you news from there”.
In Iraq the post service had been stopped for almost two decades because of the wars, and the hardest thing at that time was to keep in contact with your family or friends.
We exchanged telephone numbers. It was a very shocking thing to meet her in that park that I usually used to relax. I promised to cook for her at my place on the follow evening.
The next morning she called me and asked to meet beside the Dog statue called Hachiko on Shibuya square. Shibuya square is the meeting place for Japanese people and there is a statue of Hachiko in the square. During the second world war Hachiko used to wait for his master there every day, the master used this station every days so he was meeting his god every evening after work there. The master died in the air bombardments of Tokyo by American war planes. Hachiko was standing at their meeting points every day beside the station waiting for his owner, looking at the crowd every day for his friend and owner, but the master never appeared. One freezing snowy morning people found Hachiko’s body dead. Since then that place had become the meeting point for the community and almost every Japanese person was familiar with that story.
I met Dilkhosh at Hachiko square, we were going around the city’s temples and skyscrapers and gardens. I had just bought a second hand video camera; it was my first day to use it I was so exited about it. We had totally exhausting day.
I could cook very simple Kurdish food, rice and beans. We had dinner, candles in the middle of the table of my balcony, we had a view of Tokyo’s high-rises, all those red lights were blinking on the top of the buildings, it looked like an illuminated concrete forest.
“How did you find my food?” I asked.
“It is good for a teenage boy!” she answered teasing me.
We had made so many jokes that day it seemed like we had known each other for many years.
She was drinking wine with me, it was my first time to see a Kurdish woman drinking.
“My husband is drinking even for breakfast, he never knows that sometimes I drank his alcohol, but never in front of him”
That was the first time I knew that she was married
“You have children too?”
“No, not yet “
“How long have you been married?”
“Look kiddo, I’m not as young as you think. I was married 10 years ago, how old do you think I am?” she asked
“Maybe you could be my elder sister as that I haven’t got one” I replied teasing her.
“You are such a funny boy, you like joking.” she replied with in a way that suggested she may be a bit drunk.
We almost finished the bottle of wine. I was taking video of the high-rises, it was one of my old dreams to have a video camera and shoot that scene at night when the light twinkle.
I put the camera on self-record mood and put it on the fence of the balcony so that it could see the dining table and us.
“I don’t mind being on your tape, you live at the end of the world, you would never reach me” she was talking in a drunk voice and laughing “if my husband should see this I’m sure he will never … hahahhah” she was rambling, “it is so good to be myself,” She said these few words in more serious voice, and started to light her cigarette.
You know you were somehow lucky to escape that rat-hole, a country run by Saddam Hussein! You don’t know how sad that country became ? Once you too lived there ,
Iraq is like an oil painting, close up you can’t see it clearly, but once you get far from it you see what a filthy and ugly place it is. Boy you stay here and you never come back, change is hopeless. Wars never stops, war comes and war goes. I wish I was free like you to decide what I want”
“What do you want?”
“It is simple, I want freedom”.
13th November 1989
I went to Narita airport with her to see her off. She had such big luggage, she bought so many things in Japan. We drank a last cup of tea at the airport, she had to go to the boarding area, which of course I couldn’t go to. At the gate she held my hand and stared into my eyes full of tears.
“I promise I will send news about your family via my friends in England I’m sorry, but for security reasons, we cannot contact each others directly. We can keep in touch through Jwan in England.”
She said that holding me tight in her arms. I could feel her warm tears on my neck.
She walked toward the gate and looked back at me. I couldn’t stand it, a few drops of tears jumped from my eyes, she run back toward me, hugged me again and told me, “Baran you gave me the best time of my life, I doubt that I can experience such a time again anywhere else, Thank you”
They were the last words I heard from her. I didn't know that was the last time and I will never see her again,
I went back to my flat, the last night’s table with the finished candle were on the balcony, an empty bottle of wine in the middle of it, the video camera was forgotten on the fence run out of tape and battery too.
15th September 2004
Tara found the right time to open the parcel she got from Simko, her uncle’s family were all on a picnic but she stayed home saying she has to study, her grandpa was in bed as always, half conscious.
It was written on the parcel, ‘read on your own only’. She opened it at the top, there was a postcard of Hachiko square in Tokyo. Written on the back “Dear Tara all the postcards are original and you have the only copy, I haven’t copied anything in this parcel, including the video tape, and the postcards goes in numbers based on the date written.
With eyes full of question and curiosity Tara started to go thought the parcel.
Postcard number one, dated 31 December 1989, picture of the Kurdish girl in customs. Written on the back:
Dear Baran, cannot say happy New Year because we never had one and never do. This is my first card to you since we separated in Tokyo. I’m very sorry to tell you some bad news but I think if I don’t tell you I will regret it my entire life. I know how strong you are. Facing a life in exile, alone, in a place that only rain drops looks like your home. Baran your entire family has gone with the dead winds of Anfal. Some said they went searching for their son and they never came back, they think you are killed too and I never told anybody about you. I’m so sorry and want to hug you from here.
Postcard number two, dated 21March 1990, photo of Kurdish New Year, big fire many people dance around. Written on the back:
Dear Baran in Tokyo , I’m not sure if you are aware about the situation in Iraq? Iraq Iran war is over but we still live with war, this time we Kurds pay with more causalities, and my husband was put in the prison for 6 months, and the government put black dots on our family too. At this stage I lost the right of traveling abroad, and can’t do training courses anymore so perhaps I may never see you again, I’m so sad. Baran, there is one thing I want to tell you, I’m pregnant and now half way, I didn’t want to talk about that to you but I feel bad hiding it. I have been to the doctor a few times, and the pregnancy started from the time that I was in Tokyo. I think it is the son of Tokyo’s rain. I will tell you more later, I really want to talk to you in person.
Postcard number three, dated 3rd June 1990, photo of Narcissus flower.
Dear Baran how are you? I’m very glad that the college accepted you. I wish you will become a great engineer and rebuild Kurdistan again one day. You asked how could I be sure that it is your son? By the way it is a daughter not son. I did a sonar check, as I told you I’m a bacteriologist, after one year of marriage with my husband Amin I knew that his sperm is not productive and he can’t make a child. I never told him and never will, I did that test by myself. You and Jwana are the only one who knows that, and beside Amin, I have never slept with anyone else except you in my whole life. She is our daughter.
I know it is hard for you to accept it as you are only a kid yourself. It was the mistake of the best night in my entire life. I’m her mother and all the world’s raindrop is her father, don’t worry I will never let it create problem for you. I just want you to be aware. Nobody can even doubt me, all my family here thinks it is the miracle of medicine finally working, and we can have a child after being together for more than 10 years, they even don’t know the problem is with Amin rather than me.
Be good and study hard.
Your soul mate Dilkhosh
Postcard number four dated 10 August 1990
Barani chawakam (my eyes rain)
Maybe you are aware that another war started this time between Iraq and Kuwait, the entire country is in chaos, they take any guys over 18 years of age to fight in the war, I’m glad that you are far away from this problem, but here is just a sad land, every things is sad and pale, people wait for death more than life, in this war chaos my baby will be born next month, we will name her Tara, what do you think? It’s a nice name.
My heart is with you.
Tara was reading post card after postcard, every new one caused her greater shock. The 1st time she met Baran, she thought that this man wanted to ask for her hand but now this man is her young father! That shock was hard to accept. She had been living in the house for many years, neither grandpa nor uncle had a blood connection with her. She is a haram child, one of the biggest offence in this part of the world. People will loose the respect from the whole of society, that was the very harsh simple truth for a young girl to accept.
She put back the postcards into the parcels, she rushed to the video machine to see the tape that held another piece of the puzzle.
It was still midday and the family of her uncle were not due to come back anytime soon, it was the best chance to watch it.
She closed the curtains of the windows and door, checked grandpa to see if he need water or was still sleepy. As she stepped into his room, it was the first time for her to feel that this man’s blood had no connection to her . A very frightening reality.
She rushed back to the TV room and put the tape in, the tape ran blue for a few seconds then the picture came up. Hachiko square with many people coming and going images of the high buildings, the voice of a young man explaining about the names of the streets and building. Suddenly she saw her mother’s face, she looked like the old photos she had left for her in the album, but this time it was not a still image but one that was moving and talking, very surreal to hear her voice again after a long absence , The screen got blue again and another image came up, from the balcony you could see the Tokyo high-rises, lights blinking with red lights on top and around. The quality of the tape was very unskilled. It was running over the table with candle light in the middle and some glass and dish around, and her mother speaking half drunk, “I don’t mind to be on your tape, you live at the end of the world. You will never reach me, I am sure that my husband will never see it, hahahhah”
“Do you have more wine, I think tonight I’m so happy” she said looking more and more drunk.
“No I don’t have wine, but I have some beers, want some?”
“Oh yeh boy bring it! Look at the moon how big it is! It is with me always, from how many angels I have seen that moon, from sad Kurdistan from Tokyo from the plane, it is with me wherever I go” she said
She started to touch Baran’s hair from back of his head while he was sitting on the chair, he tilted his head back and closed his eyes he looked very drunk too.
“You have very soft and nice hair Baran, I love to touch it”
The tape looked damaged, in this part nothing could be seen for more than a minute, then it came back , she was holding the boy in her arm and they were kissing each other, there were no sounds except that of their lips kissing, they were kissing so intensely”
Tara couldn’t stand it, and paused the tape, she started sobbing. “Fucking drink, fucking drink” she realized that if there hadn’t been that secret night of her mother she would never have existed. She felt anger but still big love for the mother that she found she never known. It was like she was a totally different person to her, that mother who was always quite and had a sad smile on her face, scarifying and helping everyone around, working hard, loving her more than anything else, that mother has kept that sad long story to herself. Tara wanted to know more. She pushed the play button once again.
“Can I ask you the question?” the woman’s voice said
“Sure” the male voice replied.
“When was the happiest time in your life?” She asked.
“So far? When I escaped the chemical bombs and made it to Iran” He answered
“Same question for yourself?” He asked her.
Quietness for a while
“Now” She wept.
They hugged each other, tears and kisses were raining from their eyes, lips, hearts.
She held his hand and moved to the place that was out of the screen. All Tara could see was the table with candles in the middle, plates of left over food and empty glasses and empty wine bottles, a few beer cans also scattered around it. From far away Tokyo’s concrete forest with huge building into the cloud, the red lights blinks everywhere, the only sound of this almost still image was the moan of the female and male, voices of love and passion.
“Oh God you are a fire” The woman panted.
“ I’m shivering” he replied.
The lights were still blinking as she heard the voices of love and passion, they looked to be blinking faster and faster.
The moans subsided, and the blinking lights on the sky scrapers slowed.
“That was the best time I have ever had and probably ever will have” the woman whispered.
“I feel it was your first time. Am I right?” female voice
“ yes” he replied with a shivered voice
Sounds of soft lip kisses started again and the screen showed the signal tape end blinking and it finished.
Hello Tara, this is me Baran again, I have sent you so many e-mails but never got a reply, I wonder if your are ok? I’m back in Japan and it’s really hard not to hear a word from you. Please, please just send me one line.
I’m waiting for your reply.
15th August 2005
the result of the DNA test on the hair showed that Tara is Baran’s biological daughter
I sent so many e-mails since last year I haven’t heard the word form her, it is obvious she want to keep the things as it used to be? And she too should keep that secret and die with it. I am disappointed in getting in contact with her, but still happy that she finally knows my secrete of 17 years and I’m sure deep in her heart she has a big love for her mother and me too. She knows she is the daughter of the raindrop and the time that her mother considered the best day of her life.